A letter to the Financial Times signed by some of the highest digital figures in the UK challenges the House of Lords adoption of amendment 120A to the digital economy bill.
This clause, they argue, will lead to more cases where internet service providers (ISPs) block websites accused of illegally hosting copyrighted material – before being seen by a judge.
The writers, who include Tom Watson MP, Stephen Fry, the chief executive of Orange; the MD of Google UK, the chairman of the TalkTalk Group, BT Group’s chief executive and the MD of EBay, claim that freedom of speech will be threatened, without reducing copyright infringement.
“Vigilantes managed to get around the identity ban in the early weeks of their conviction by naming them on websites (…) But Scotland Yard’s e-crime unit worked with internet service providers to remove most of the content from cyberspace.”
The conditions of the reporting ban aside it’s an interesting series of events – banned, leaked, removed, reported in the ‘traditional’ press – a cycle under increasing pressure from the online world.
“[T]he tension between technology and outright repression – the availability of satellite television, the use of the internet as impetus for growth and economic modernization – has rendered obsolete the old methods of press control and suppression of information such as media nationalization and overt censorship.
“In China, which now has more than a quarter billion online users, self-censorship is enforced through government rules and regulations that guide Internet service providers about what news can be posted and who can post it (…) In every country following the Chinese model, internet access has been severely restricted or the plug pulled entirely during periods of potential social unrest.”
While the US’ ranking in terms of imprisoned journalists is low, the country’s actions have ‘a disproportionate impact’ on the rest of the world. With a new administration comes new hope for global press freedom, Bernstein adds.
“President Barack Obama must recognise that whenever the United States fails to uphold press freedom at home or on the battlefield, its actions ripple across the world. By scrupulously upholding press freedom at home, by ending the practice of open-ended detentions of journalists, and by investigating and learning from each instance in which the US military is responsible for the death of a journalist, Obama can send an unequivocal message about the country’s commitment to protecting press freedom. These policies might accelerate declines in the numbers of journalists killed and imprisoned. They will certainly make it much harder for governments worldwide to justify repressive policies by citing the actions of the United States.”